Monday, June 30, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court: Federal defenders at issue in death penalty case

Federal defenders, who have already faced criticism from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and a federal judge over their tactics, are now being asked to explain themselves to the U.S. Supreme Court, reported The Legal Intelligencer.
In refusing to review the death sentence of Michael Ballard, who pleaded guilty in 2011 to killing four people, including his ex-girlfriend, in Northampton County, the court took note of a letter from Ballard complaining about the federal defenders' attempts to get involved in his case.
According to the docket, the court has ordered Marc Bookman, the director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, to respond to Ballard's June 2 letter within 40 days.
In his letter, Ballard said he "never authorized anyone" to file anything on his behalf and that he's not appealing his sentence "any further than it has been."
"It is my most ardent plea that asks now of you that the appeal filed in my behest be rejected summarily," Ballard wrote. "The reasons being: the 'federal defender's' filing have acted without my authorization; without my knowledge even. They are attempting to secure themselves as 'attorney's of record' so as to circumvent having to obtain my authorization.
"And lastly, but most importantly, they are acting against my own wishes to waive my appeals."
Bookman declined comment. Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli was not available at press time. However, he told the Easton Express-Times he sent a copy of Ballard's letter to the court to let the justices know of Ballard's opposition.
"He (Bookman) has some explaining to do to the Supreme Court," Morganelli told The Express-Times.
In response to similar criticisms made in another article in The Legal, Bookman wrote a letter to the editor. In the letter, Bookman rejected the idea the defenders were gaming the system.
"The implication is that, but for the delaying tactics of the defense attorneys, there would have been regular executions in Pennsylvania, rather than the three individuals who wanted to be executed in the late 1990s," Bookman wrote. "This does not explain the more than 100 reversals of death sentences, reversals based on constitutional errors rather than delay. In short, this 'gaming' is nothing more than outstanding lawyering.
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